The Beatdown

If Nina has anything to say about it, this story will have a happy ending.

Nina Storey doesn't give a rat's ass what I think.

If you've lived in Denver for any length of time and follow local music, you've heard of Nina Storey. How could you not? The hype machine went into overdrive minutes after she dropped her debut album, Guilt and Honey, in 1993, and she's been on the verge of becoming the next big thing ever since.

But it's been ten years now, folks. At some point, an artist either is the next big thing or she should get the hell out of the way -- and I don't care how many Broncos' games she's sung at or how many magazine covers she's graced. Back in February 2000, the Rocky Mountain News slapped Storey's mug on the cover of its Sunday Spotlight section alongside the headline "The Next Big Thing?" To ask that question -- seven years after her debut -- wasn't just ridiculous, it was pathetic. Don't you think that if an artist was really about to break out, those words would at least end with a period?

Look at Stacie Orrico. She skipped the semantics, not to mention the paltry lip service from local fish wraps, and today her name is followed by a big fat exclamation point. This homegrown chanteuse actually became the next big thing while most of us were sleeping. By the time Cowtown even knew who Orrico was, she was already getting play on MTV.

So, yeah, I'd heard of Nina Storey, all right. I'd heard of her, but I'd never really listened to her. Not until last week, after her very persistent manager/mom, Jan, convinced me to talk with Storey about her new album.

In preparation for our little chat, I read every single line written about her over the past few years -- and scoffed. But I also threw on the only album of Storey's that I could find in the vast expanse of my audio library: Shades, her 2000 release. And as her seductive and lucid vocals poured out of the speakers, they warmed the room like a down-filled parka on a bitterly cold January morning. By track three, she'd vaporized any assumptions I'd made about her musical ability. Not only did she have a gigantic set of pipes, but she knew her away around a tune. Even so, I was fully prepared to introduce Storey to the business end of a straight-up, old-school, hockey-style beatdown. You see, I was anticipating a pampered little princess who felt like the world owed her something because of who she was and what she'd done.

I finally caught up with Storey at her Uncle Randy's place in rural Georgia, where she was visiting. And I came out swinging. "Just so you know," I said, defiantly, "I don't do fluff pieces."

She chuckled, catching me a little off-guard, and said very simply in her soft, gentle voice, "Oh, okay."

For the record, Storey never claimed to be the next big thing; that was something the overexcitable ink-slingers saddled her with. And she doesn't care what people think, not unless those people are her fans. All that matters to her is the music -- her music.

We started off talking about her new record, 24 Off the Board, a double disc recorded live at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz, California. At this stage of her career, I asked, why another live album? Her second CD, Bootleg, was also live. Wasn't one enough?

"I've been writing a lot of music," she explained, "and I've been doing quite a bit of touring. I'm still working on the next studio project, and I just kind of spontaneously decided this summer to put out this record because I had so much music. I just didn't want to wait until the next studio piece was done."

Okay, but 24 tracks and two discs? Isn't that a little self-indulgent?

"It's really a disc for the fans," she answered. "I've gotten so many requests for a lot of the songs that I'd done on this past tour. I've just been adding new music to my show constantly, and there's been a demand for it. This is all new music. Usually with live records, it's music off of other CDs. The purpose of me doing my music is to share it. Half of the fun is creating it, and the other half is sharing it."

And it sounds like she has plenty more to share. Since 24 Off the Board was committed to tape, Storey's written even more material, and there's a good chance that not all nineteen of those cuts will make it onto her next studio effort, an as-yet-untitled record that's a followup to last year's Nina Storey.That platter did fairly well regionally, although not quite as well as Shades, and for good reason. Thanks to a licensing deal her label had reached with Navarre, Shades was distributed nationally, earned praise from Performing Songwriter and People magazines, garnered airplay on some mainstream stations and went on to sell 20,000 copies. If ever Storey was going to truly be the next big thing, to break through on a massive scale, that was the time.

But the deal was complicated and ended after the release of Shades. Storey acknowledges that when she parted ways with Navarre, she lost some momentum. But if she's bitter, you'd never know it. Storey isn't one to talk shit; that's not her style. All she'd say about Navarre is that the experience taught her what to do and what not to do. She remains undaunted and insists that her best days are not behind her. In her mind, she's just starting to scratch the surface of what she wants to do musically. After a decade, she's finally starting to hit her stride.

This would have made a great sound bite if Storey were a politician, but let's face it: From a marketing standpoint, she's a little past her prime. She's not that same wide-eyed twenty-something she once was. Music isn't like a jury -- you know, the longer you wait for a verdict, the better your chances are.

"I don't necessarily define success as just unit sales," Storey replied after I pointed that out. "Commercially, the idea is to reach out and touch as many people as possible. If that translates into record sales or ticket sales, then fine. But I'm not super-comfortable saying, 'Well, I want to sell a lot of records.' I just want to put out amazing music that touches people and changes them in a very positive way. That's my life's pursuit.

"Everything is so fleeting, so I try not to take things for granted," she added. "That's something that's been ingrained in me."

Storey may not have a high-powered publicist on retainer anymore and she may be back doing things at a grassroots level, but she's fine with that. After all, that's how she's operated for most of the past ten years.

So when she told me about a friend of hers in L.A. who's had a major-label deal for the past five years and has not released anything, I believed her when she said, "It breaks my heart." Because she's not waiting around for any record-label sugar daddy to finance her dreams.

Storey's making it happen on her own, Ani DiFranco style, with the help of her mom, who works the phones like she's stumping for Easter Seals. "If she thinks something's not a great idea, we'll talk about it," Storey said. "There's definitely some decisions where I've been like, 'Oh, God, I wish I hadn't done that.' And she'll be like, 'Well, that's what you wanted to do.' She's pretty laid-back. She's a kind person, and she works very hard."

Still, it can't all have been sunshine and roses. To keep the same manager for ten years is pretty astounding -- let alone a manager who also happens to be your mom. "It's all about respect, respecting her position," Storey explained, referring to Jan as her "manager" rather than her mother. "It's like any long-term relationship: You go through things and you grow through things. And we both come from this place of just trying to be nice to people and hope that they're nice back."

As we wound things up, I couldn't help but be struck by Storey's passion, sincerity and humility. She wasn't the superficial diva I'd expected. She didn't have that sense of entitlement I'd assumed she'd have. In fact, both she and Jan thanked me profusely -- as though this were her first big interview, ever. While I don't think Nina Storey's the next big thing, she's definitely the real deal.

So don't be surprised if you see me at her CD-release party at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom next Friday, December 12, or at the Fox Theatre on Saturday, December 27. (She'll also be performing with Wendy Wooat Swallow Hill this Friday, December 5, and doing a full-band show the next day at the Virgin Megastore in the Denver Pavilions.)

Aw, shucks, I guess this is pretty fluffy, after all.

Every rose has its thorn:A few weekends back, butt-rock poster boy Brett Michaels dropped by the Bluebird for what amounted to a touring version of Where Are They Now?Since Michaels fronts one of the few relics from the Revlon era that can still pack Fiddler's, I expected a sellout. So me and my tireless sidekick, the American Biggolo, showed up for the gig a little early and were shocked to find only fifty or sixty people.

By the time Michaels took the stage, Biggie was ready to strangle me for dragging him along. But I just had to witness Michaels's transformation from Monster of Rock to Monster of Mock.

As Michaels treated the '80s hangers-ons to kid-tested, mother-approved cuts from the Poison years as well as, gulp, his solo material, the only thing holding my pal Big's attention was a non-stop parade of Red Bull and Jagers. While I was pumping my fist alongside the Camaro contingent, Big was medicating himself at the back bar, and by the time I caught back up with him, he was speaking in tongues. He kept muttering something about "boogie shrapnel"; assuming that someone had spilled a drink on Big while they were dancing, I chalked the line up to the inadvertently clever shit people say when they're tanked.

Just then, my man Brett announced that he was buying a round for everyone in the house who'd braved the deep freeze. Beautiful. At that, Biggie snapped out of his stupor long enough to belly up to the bar and say "I'll take one on the ass clown," motioning toward Michaels. The bartender laughed and handed the Big fella round number twelve. I had to pull the plug on the dude a few minutes later; on the road home, I got hit with some boogie shrapnel -- make that Biggie shrapnel -- of my own.

Looks like Brett got the last laugh.

Upbeats and beatdowns:On Thursday, December 4, Fortywatt, 3rd Straightloss and Planetary Nebula hit the Lion's Lair, while D.O.R.K., Dropskots, Anyone But Steve and No Fair Fights get punk in drublic at the Climax Lounge. Then on Friday, the Tarmints, the Otter Poppsand the Swanks are at the 15th Street Tavern. Finally, over at the Larimer Lounge that same night, Mike Park (the man behind seminal punk label Asian Man Records) stops by in support of his new album, For the Love of Music.

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